Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Happiness Is An Avodah

I heard this idea presented in shul tonight.

We all want to be happy. Most people strive to achieve happiness, but stumble and struggle, and are even discouraged that they may ever be truly happy.

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Often enough, however, we tend to think that the source of our happiness comes from some external source. If only we had X, Y, or Z - then we'd really be happy. But, because we don't have those things right now, we aren't happy, and we believe that we can't be happy without them.

Rav Yaakov Weinberg Z'tl said that this is a harmful train of thought. By declaring that you can't be happy because you don't currently have X, Y, or Z - you are deciding for yourself not to be happy. Happiness shouldn't be dependent on something external to us. Rather, it is self-generated from within our own minds and souls.

Rav Weinberg elaborated on this theme, saying that this is one of the reasons why Sukkos, known as Zman Simchaseinu - the Time of our Happiness - follows Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, a rather somber and serious period of time. First, we recognize HaShem is our King, and then we plead for our lives from the Ultimate Judge - which doesn't leave a lot of room to focus on happiness.

However this process of going through the Yomim Nora'im is meant to help us recognize a thought pattern that we should ingrain into our daily lives. What brings us true happiness should be the realization that HaShem is indeed, our King, and we are His servants. By doing His requested acts of service, namely the Mitzvos, we will be productive and rewarded, and our internal happiness will stem from our spiritual connection and relationship with HaShem.

Happiness is part of our Avodah of HaShem. It takes hard work, like any Avodah, but we will be better off because of it.


While thinking about this idea, my mind started making other connections and expansions on the concept.

I know I myself have often focused on external things that I believed, once I attained them, would bring me happiness, but in reality, happiness needs to be self-generated. Whatever stage we are in life - single, dating, engaged, married, parents, grandparents - there is always bound to be something not quite perfect, something lacking in what we expected to have at this stage.

The most stereotypical example is someone engaged and soon-to-be married.

He or she often believes that as soon as they leave the chuppah for the yichud room, everything will be glorious, full of rainbows and sunshine. The truth of the matter is, marriage isn't a happily ever after - it's really hard and requires a lot of work. It can, and will be difficult at times - and couples will struggle with one issue or another.

Nevertheless, everyone still has some positive thing(s) in their life that they have been given as blessings from HaShem. Recognizing them, expressing gratitude for them, and enjoying them - will produce happiness.

If I recall correctly, Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz wrote in one of his books (I think The Thinking Jewish Teenager's Guide to Life) that happiness is never an end goal, a destination to be reached or a stage to achieve, rather it is the journey in life itself.

So no matter what troubles are thrown at you in this often crazy world we live in, there is still something we can all recognize and latch onto that will help us create that self-generated state of happiness.

Of all the things I've learned while married, I must say that this is one of the most important: having Simchas HaChaim. Without it, life can get quite dreary and dreadful.

So let us all strive to elevate our minds, bodies and souls with the simcha of the forthcoming chag of Sukkos, and by internalizing Rav Weinberg's ideas, let us choose to be happy, and hopefully we can carry that simcha with us throughout the rest of the year.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Teshuva: Make One Small Change

I heard this idea presented tonight before Ma'ariv.

The speaker (one of the members of the local kollel) mentioned that his brother-in-law had an idea for a business. Since everyone knows that the air of Israel makes a person wise (Bava Basra 158B), he wanted to sell bottles of Israeli air to tourists. Whenever they needed a burst of smartness, such as the night before a test, they'd open the bottle and breathe in the inspirational air.

Of course, this wouldn't really work as a practical financial venture, but it does work with regard to doing teshuva.

The Ba'alei Mussar write that an effective way to do teshuva is to make one small, consistent change to one's life. The speaker quoted his rebbe in Israel as commenting that the best time to take this small change upon oneself is to do it during Ne'ilah, when you really feel the power and awe of HaShem's kingship and the overall spiritual rush of the conclusion of Yom Kippur. By doing this, you are effectively capturing that moment of spiritual elevation and inspiration in your own small bottle.

Every time you perform this small change - every day - it's as though you will be sampling some of the power you captured from that moment of acceptance during Ne'ilah. Each day, you will, to a small degree, re-experience that feeling of spiritual fortitude and inspiration. By doing this small thing every day, you create a link that strings together all the days of the coming year that leads back to that awe-inspiring moment of Ne'ilah.

And that is how you can create an effective change that will have a lasting impact - from this Ne'ilah to the next.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Rosh Hashana 5774 / 2014 Music Video Round Up

With Rosh Hashana a few days away, it's time for the annual Rosh Hashana music video round up!

Here's Six13 with their Rosh Hashana Jam. is back with another hip-hop dance-filled video, based off of Daft Punk, called "Get Clarity."

Is that Edon?

Shlomo Katz has a preview song called "Vayeda Kol Paul" from his upcoming album, to be released in October.

"Forgive Me," a humorous video by Jewish Comedian Yisrael Campbell.

My question is: Where are the Maccabeats? It seems like there are fewer videos this year... perhaps the Jewish music parody craze the Maccabeats began with "Candlelight" has come and gone?